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Update Your Resume to Optimize Career Success

Much like changing the oil in your car, it’s best to update your resume regularly if you want to optimize the mileage you’ll get out of your career. How far do you want to go?

If you want to get good performance out of your car, you need to do routine maintenance—and the same mindset should apply to your career. By having a current resume, you can set yourself up for success.

Track Accomplishments, Assess Goals, and Update Accordingly

Recognize that the hassle of updating your resume on a regular basis will save you headaches later. I am frequently contacted by people who have not updated their resume in more than ten years—and are suddenly in a pinch to do so. To avoid last-minute stress, I recommend you update your resume once a year or every time you have a major accomplishment.

If you don’t do so already, develop a habit of documenting your accomplishments. Major accomplishments tend to be obvious. For some professionals, a major accomplishment might be a promotion, a formal award, or a special assignment. But this is a relative concept; use your discretion when determining what is noteworthy for you and your circumstance.

Other less significant accomplishments are also important to track because they help define you as a professional and can be useful both for your resume and for annual evaluations where you might be asked to discuss what you have achieved in the past year. These types of accomplishments might include praise from a boss, beating a deadline, being entrusted to train a new employee, giving a presentation, or representing your organization to a larger audience.

Reflect on your goals periodically, and make sure you are working toward them. Consider enrolling in a course, attending a seminar, or otherwise taking action to develop your skill set. If you realize you need skill X to accomplish Y, then seek out X. Doing so will help you reach your goals—and will provide you with specific information to include on your resume that shows how you’ve developed your skill set.

Evaluate Each Section of Your Resume

Review your resume for the strength of its overall structure. Common resume sections include Summary, Experience, Education, Certifications or Professional Development, Awards, Community Leadership or Volunteerism, and Professional Affiliations. Use sections that are appropriate to your own situation and industry, keeping in mind that less can be more.

If you have a Summary section immediately after your name and contact information, ensure it gives the reader an overview of your professional profile. Most readers take only six to ten seconds to decide if they want to read a resume in its entirety, so the Summary (sometimes called Profile) is particularly important. Picture this section as a highway billboard: What is the most important information that a reader must know? And how can you convey it succinctly? Include information that a potential reader will value, which could be a combination of your years of experience in the field, level of responsibility, education, certifications, core competencies, or leadership style.

The content in each section of your resume should accurately and strategically represent what you offer. The driving question for whether a piece of information (or entire section) should be included is “Will this information help get me an interview?” If the answer is no, do not include the information. Remember that if it’s not relevant, then it’s likely a distraction.

When you proactively update your resume, deciding which information to include might not be as evident as when you have a job description to respond to. Even still, you should have a good idea of your key strengths and accomplishments that a potential reader will value. This reader could be a future employer or current employer if you are seeking a promotion.

Strengthen Your Resume’s Bullet Points

Resumes typically include bullet-pointed items that describe responsibilities and accomplishments. However, these bullet points often contain lackluster, ambiguous statements like “Worked to institute training protocols” or “Managed the budget.” In the first example, there is no evidence that the person actually instituted the training protocols. In the second, there is no metric for the size of the budget or indication that the person managed it well. Leave no room for interpretation of your success.

Review each bullet point in your resume to determine if it shows a result or accomplishment and leads with a strong, active verb. Use numbers to quantify and highlight your success or level of achievement, or, if that is not feasible, be clear in how you carried out each task. Notice how much the following revision strengthens the previous example:

Before: Instituted training protocols that clarified work processes
After: Reduced employee errors by 34%, and improved employee confidence by 62% based on survey feedback

If you cannot strengthen a bullet point by using these methods, then ensure you are including the information for a compelling reason.

Final Thoughts

Keep in mind that your resume is a strategic marketing document. It is not simply an archive of information that documents your work history. It should present a clear and precise summary of your background and qualifications and show how they support your career endeavors. There is very little room for irrelevant, outdated, or otherwise non-compelling information.

If you make a habit of keeping track of your accomplishments, periodically assessing your career goals and making sure you’re working toward them, and then updating your resume accordingly, you’ll always be ready when your next opportunity arises.

Heidi owns and operates Career Path Writing Solutions, a communications consulting firm dedicated to helping individuals and businesses communicate when it matters most. She delights in helping job seekers navigate career change and guiding business owners to present their value proposition persuasively. Heidi earned her PhD in history from Duke University and teaches professional development for various university programs and organizations. She holds certifications in resume writing, interview preparation, and empowerment coaching, and sits on the Certification Committee of the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches.

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